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I spent the day yesterday as Cookie Monster and by the time it got dark I’d had enough of Halloween so Amy and I watched Parkland last night. The reviews were so-so but we both thought it was outstanding. Paul Giamatti was perfect as Abraham Zapruder and I seem to like Billy Bob Thornton better and better as he ages (he’d be one of the two people I’d pick to play my dad Stan in his biography – the other is Alan Arkin).
I grew up in Dallas – I lived there from 1968 to 1983 when I moved to Boston to go to college. I’ve only lived in a few other places – Blytheville, Arkansas from 1965 – 1966, Boston in 1967 and again from 1983 – 1995, and Boulder since 1995. So Dallas looms large over my own personal development.
The Kennedy assassination happened two years before I was born. But once I was old enough to hear about Nixon and Vietnam, I started hearing about how the most loved president ever was murdered in Dallas. I rarely spent any time in downtown Dallas as a kid and never really knew my way around until I started running the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving as a teenager. I still can’t find my way around downtown Dallas even with a GPS, but if you ask me the radio station and TV call letters KRLD and KERA immediately pop into my brain.
Parkland Hospital was one of the hospitals my dad made rounds at. I don’t remember going there with him, although I’m sure I did. I hated being in the hospital – I hated the smells, the lights, the noises, and most of all the sick people. The hustle and bustle. The quiet moments followed by chaos. And I never, ever wanted to touch anything. I didn’t realize I had OCD at the time, but it makes perfect sense to me in hindsight how uncomfortable I was whenever I was on rounds with my dad. I stopped around age 10 – I just told him I didn’t want to do it anymore and that was that.
Watching the movie last night was deeply immersive. The hospital scenes – first of Kennedy, then of Oswald, were extremely uncomfortable for me. It wasn’t sensationalized ER or Grey’s Anatomy tripe – it was intense, real, and very bloody. And hopeless. We knew Kennedy was going to die, but we kept rooting for him and hoping for a miracle. The helplessness, sadness, and hopelessness of the situation oozed through every scene.
The historical moments felt just right. Today, there aren’t as many cowboy hats in Dallas, but when I was a kid everyone wore one. And in the movie, there were plenty of them. Parkland felt dark, industrial, and dingy – just like I remembered hospitals feeling when I was a kid. Lots of turquoise. Anger popped out at unexpected times – sometimes with incredibly velocity. Everyone smoked all the time. And when the sky was blue, it was a bright blue – one that made you want to shade your eyes with your hand.
When I moved to Boston in 1983, I didn’t really connect that Kennedy was loved by Boston and “those hicks in Dallas killed him.” By the time I’d lived in Boston for four years, my identity as being from Dallas – and growing up in Texas – had faded, but there was a period of time the first few years when I was very aware of a tragedy that defined the city for many people who didn’t live there for 20+ years after it happened.
Fifty years later, the day still feels oddly familiar. Dealey Plaza. Jackie Kennedy. The Zapruder film. Lee Harvey Oswald. And Parkland Hospital. All phrases that are associated with the Kennedy Assassination. Powerful.